Tuesday, April 28, 2009

i-TFTD #201: Why We Read Ancient Wisdom

i-TFTD #201: Why We Read Ancient Wisdom

(Depending on your preferences, you can think of The Gita or the Bible or the Koran or a Richard Bach or Paul Coelho or Ayn Rand or Robert Pirsig book when reading this.)

An old farmer lived on a farm in the mountains with his young grandson. Each morning Grandpa was up early sitting at the kitchen table reading the <any-favourite-scripture-or-profound-book>. His grandson wanted to be just like him and tried to imitate him in every way he could. One day the grandson asked, "Grandpa, I try to read <the-book> just like you but I don't understand it, and what I do understand I forget as soon as I close the book. What good does reading <the-book> do?"

The Grandfather quietly turned from putting coal in the stove and replied, "Take this coal basket down to the river and bring me back a basket of water." The boy did as he was told, but all the water leaked out before he got back to the house.

The grandfather laughed and said, "You'll have to move a little faster next time," and sent him back to the river with the basket to try again. This time the boy ran faster, but again the basket was empty before he returned home. Out of breath, he told his grandfather that it was impossible to carry water in a basket, and he went to get a bucket instead. The old man said, "I don't want a bucket of water; I want a basket of water. You're just not trying hard enough," and he went out the door to watch the boy try again.

At this point, the boy knew it was impossible, but he wanted to show his grandfather that even if he ran as fast as he could, the water would leak out before he got back to the house. The boy again dipped the basket into river and ran hard, but when he reached his grandfather the basket was again empty.

Out of breath, he said,  "See Grandpa, it's useless!"

"So you think it is useless?" The old man said, "Look at the basket."

The boy looked at the basket and for the first time realized that the basket was different. It had been transformed from a dirty old coal basket and was now clean, inside and out.

"Son, that's what happens when you read <the-book>. You might not understand or remember everything, but when you read it, you will be changed, inside and out."


My personal experience is that we need periodic doses of good stuff, and they do seem to work on our insides. Maturity of thought cannot be obtained in one "Aha!" moment. What appeals to us changes over time and the same words start to mean different things after some more life experience. This works regardless of our faith or belief in what is being said. Many say belief makes it faster but belief cannot be engineered. I continue to be a proponent of healthy scepticism (different from cynicism).

Thursday, April 23, 2009

i-TFTD #200

i-TFTD #200

#200-1. We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice - that is, until we have stopped saying 'It got lost,' and say, 'I lost it.'
-Sydney J. Harris, journalist (1917-1986)

#200-2. Memories are interpreted like dreams.
-Leo Longanesi, journalist and editor (1905-1957)

#200-3. The obscure we see eventually, the completely apparent takes a little longer.
-Edward R. Murrow, journalist (1908-1965)

The small but subtle shift in language, taking responsibility, does wonders to our demonstrated sense of ownership. Practise it and you shall experience a positive change in how others react to you.

Memories are not only interpreted, recent research confirms that we actually reconstruct descriptions of past events on-the-fly. The remembering function of our brain is not at all comparable to a computer retrieving data from a storage disk. Key impressions and perceptions, highly influenced by emotions and experience, are stored as snippets and mysteriously manifest as we create stories as part of the recalling process. What does this imply? We should leave a little door or doubt open when we are "100% sure" of what we "clearly remember" when arguing with someone who has a different take of it. If we wish to learn something or teach something to someone, emotion in the form of humour and example stories would help in retention and recall.

Another interesting phenomenon is "the expert misses the obvious" or "you don't see the water if you are a fish". It is a good habit to quickly state or list the top-of-mind ideas to free up our mind to delve deeper for new thoughts. Another useful technique when faced with intractable problems or complex challenges is to periodically examine the fundamentals: what exactly is the problem? why is it a problem? what is the consequence to whom if we do not solve it?

Monday, April 20, 2009

i-TFTD #199

i-TFTD #199

#199-1. Tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave.
-Eliyahu Goldratt

#199-2. The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do.
-John Holt

#199-3. Live as if everything you do will eventually be known.
-Hugh Prather

Any numerical measurement programme makes people automatically align to show up well in that system. Organizations struggle to achieve what their top management says is important because their actual reward and punishment schemes and actions are not in sync with the stated goals.

On the other hand, as individuals, we must strive to do what is right, regardless of whether it is being watched or whether we have been given explicit instructions to do or not do something. My personal experience is that this is tough. And it might not always lead to material success. But it does give a tremendous inner satisfaction that strengthens our character, our true self.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

i-TFTD #198

i-TFTD #198

#198-1. I claim to be no more than an average man with less than average abilities. I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.

-Mahatma Gandhi

#198-2. My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.

-Indira Gandhi

#198-3. (Q: Any message for Indian children?) It is humbling to be asked. Material interests are not the only guiding light. It is, something that you'd enjoy doing in the long run. Take the time to figure out how to get there. The quickest way may not necessarily be the best. The journey matters as much as the goal. Listen to the sounds of nature. Wishing you the best on your trek towards your dreams. Take good care of our fragile planet.

-Kalpana Chawla, astronaut, in an interview given just before she took off on the fatal Columbia mission, India Today magazine, Feb. 17, 2003


"The Gandhi" can say anything and we can only hope to fully understand and implement.

Making sure one gets credit is a skill in today's world. It is better to first focus on doing many creditable things and then worry about developing this skill.

Many who have attained outstanding success, have concerns beyond their domain of materialistic achievement.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

i-TFTD #197

i-TFTD #197

#197-1. If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of potentialfor the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints; possibility never.
-Soren Kierkegaard

#197-2. There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope.
-Bern Williams

#197-3. While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.
-Angela Schwindt

We all know many quotes on hope, future, potential and optimism as captured in the famous Hindi phrase, "Ummeed pe duniya kaayam hai" but we forget it when we need it most -- when faced with a difficult problem. Experts say that "possibility thinking" can be an acquired habit and that it actually helps generate more solutions.

I have always admired and tried to emulate people who keep looking to move ahead from what seems to be an impossibly stuck situation. It is much easier to moan about fate.

Once we open ourselves to learning from children, they teach us a lotincluding possibility thinking.

Friday, April 3, 2009

i-TFTD #196

i-TFTD #196

#196-1. Don't tell God how big your problem is, tell the problem how big your God is!


#196-2. I never give them hell. I just tell the truth, and they think it is hell.

-Harry S. Truman

#196-3. The best things in life aren't things.

-Art Buchwald


We all remember how things that seemed so critically important when we were younger now appear to be trivial, or some of the biggest difficulties we faced long ago now seem easy. We should often tell ourselves that big issues on hand today are likely to look simple stuff in our revised assessment tomorrow. So a better version of the first quote above could be, "Tell the problem how big you are!"

One situation where the second quote could be observed in action: a meeting where the discussion is a bit superficial and someone utters a well-known but somewhat unpalatable truth.

The third should be obvious to anyone who has shared a laugh with a small child or helped someone spontaneously and received a kind word in return.